China in Europe

27/06/2018

On Wednesday 27th June, the European Leadership Network (ELN) and Salamanca Group co-hosted the latest breakfast briefing part of the Strategic Insight series on “China in Europe.”

The event was chaired by Lord Peter Ricketts, former UK Ambassador to France and UK National Security Adviser, who introduced the discussion before passing over to key note speakers: Dr Yu Jie, head of China Foresight at LSE IDEAS and Humphrey Hawksley BBC foreign correspondent and author of Asian Waters, all poised to consider the implications of China’s growing involvement in Europe for policymakers and business executives.

The Sino-European relationship; a topic with many facets and an abundance of views. With the continuing hostility between the US and China, it is looking to strengthen relations away from Washington, but is it directing its compass towards Europe?  The topic was introduced questioning whether stability in Europe, of which there is little to be found in our current landscape, is in the Chinese interest? And what is the consequence of Brexit in Chinese eyes? There are two sides to China, the economic opportunity and the security threat, and whilst even those in power cannot come to a conclusion as to which it represents, how does this effect European approach to Chinese investment? The question begs whether we can be so suspicious of money that may ultimately fund key infrastructure such as Heathrow or Hinckley point, and how we can judge a thriving nation when we cannot keep our own house in order?  But China plays by its own rules, as it has shown time and again, not adhering to foreign legislation. It also lacks our democracy, ruled by a one-party system that is beginning to look and act more like a superpower the more it plays at international politics, and with this in mind, should we deem it unsuitable for economic partnerships?

The same questions need to be asked of the magnanimous ‘Belt and Road initiative’ that will connect the East to the West like never before. There is little transparency in the project, but again we must question whether this project is purely to redefine geographical trade capabilities or whether it is a huge strategic manoeuvre to ensure China will never be blockaded by sea. Further, of recent years Europe has let down its barriers to allow more Chinese investment, but it remains increasingly challenging to get into China, proving the need for strengthened relationships and knowledge of business etiquette on both sides.

As with all questions surrounding China, there are no real answers. But we can say that whilst China’s strategy and outlook has always been long-term, the changes happening will not be. China is a driving force of the world economy torpedoing towards greater power, but the role of and relationship with Europe we must wait to watch unfold.